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Selma Blair says she self-medicated with alcohol to manage the symptoms of her undiagnosed multiple sclerosis, but that she ultimately didn’t seek treatment for her alcohol use disorder because she feared being “deemed an insurance risk” on productions.
In a new interview with Vogue, Blair opens up about grappling with undiagnosed and untreated MS throughout her childhood and how getting her diagnosis 40 years later was instrumental to her self-acceptance and ability to treat her condition without fear of being ousted from entertainment.
“Sets were excruciating sometimes with the exhaustion and the tics. I took benzos and Klonopin [a medication used to prevent seizures and anxiety disorders]. I didn’t abuse those things, just alcohol,” she told the magazine of how she grappled with the symptoms of the condition. “But I was lost and sad and could hardly ever smile. Hence my roles, I imagine.”
Speaking to her time as a child, Blair shared how waking up in fits of hysterical laughter — and experiencing waves of uncontrollable crying in her adulthood — were early signs that her MS had already “damaged her frontal lobe — the equivalent of a brain injury,” Vogue writes.
“I just thought I was a hugely emotional person,” Blair said. “I looked like a ‘normal’ girl to them, but I was Disabled this whole time.”
Blair, who spoke publicly about her MS diagnosis for the first time in October 2018, said she self-medicated during her adult acting career, terrified someone would find out about her various health challenges. That includes when she filmed 2004’s Hellboy in Prague, a job where she was diagnosed with cat scratch fever and possible leukemia.
But the anxiety didn’t stop there. When it came to her alcohol use, she didn’t seek treatment, concerned someone would also find out about that.
“I was worried since the beginning of time that a glaring fault would remove me from the workforce. And usually, it was my incoordination or getting stuck, too weak or sick, in my trailer — or any time, really. The vomiting or body issues were terrifying, [and the] baldness or rashes,” she recalled. “I couldn’t tell anybody. I couldn’t admit alcoholism or [access] treatment in my insurance for fear I’d be deemed an insurance risk. I fell apart once I got back to L.A.”
“I was always terrified I would be deemed incapable,” Blair — who also spoke about how her mother would sometimes become “frustrated with her daughter’s extra needs,” according to Vogue — said. “Or mentally unsound. My mother taught me that was death for a woman career-wise.”
The actress, who had begun feeling the effects of MS at as young as seven having lost use of her bladder, right eye and left leg, said it all became too much for her to continue working. So in 2009, after filming the U.S. TV remake of Kath & Kim, Blair — who detailed her condition in the doc Introducing, Selma Blair — stepped back from Hollywood.
“My autoimmune system was misfiring… losing most of my hair and all of my energy,” she recalled. “It was a French exit and everybody else stayed at the party… My self-hatred was extreme. I could not manage well and I couldn’t even try to find work… It was a running joke. How far was the audition? How many naps would I fit in on the side of the road before and after?”
Blair added that after she stopped working, she “spent my days in bed, crying, sometimes binge drinking, sometimes reading and sleeping, seeing doctors and healers.” It wasn’t until her formal diagnosis that she found relief. But that only came after having been labeled an attention-seeker and being dismissed by doctors. “If you’re a boy with those symptoms, you get an MRI,” the actress said. “If you’re a girl, you’re called ‘crazy.'”
Now, Blair proudly considers herself a disability advocate and openly talks about her “emotional and physical attachment to the cane” she uses.
“I settle in my voice and body as soon as I hold [it]. It’s an extension of me. And I know it adds to visibility. So many younger people have started publicly embracing their sticks more,” she told the magazine. “I do think representation matters. If I can help remove stigma or over-curiosity in a crowd for someone else, then that’s great.”
But even that took time for her embrace, with the actress revealing how having “lived in two worlds” — the non-Disabled world and now Disabled — fueled her being “ignorant” early on, even though now it helps her bring together people within and outside the disability community.
“I didn’t even know how recently the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] was formed! There were few people with visible disabilities in my school or even college campus. And so we carried on in our bubbles,” she shared. “When I had a child and a stroller as a single mom, it was my first practical exposure to lack of accessibility. It now hits home how this has been the way, the whole time, for people with bigger challenges.”
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